This short sampling of military and veterans affairs vocabulary can help you “talk the talk” with potential veteran-serving partners, grantees, and service sites. Ask a board or staff member or friends or family members who have served to review and suggest additions.

Active Duty—A full-time occupation with one of the Armed Forces. Contrast with reserve duty.

American Legion—A federally chartered mutual-aid organization for veterans founded in 1919. It claims 3 million members organized into 14,000 posts across the U.S. and overseas. Legionnaires organize commemorative events and service opportunities for veterans, lobby for benefits and other support for veterans and service members, and sponsor the Boys State and Boys Nation civic training events for youth.

American Legion Auxiliary (ALA)—A nonprofit, patriotic-service affiliate of the American Legion founded in 1919. It provides opportunities for women to engage in volunteer service in support of veterans and children and youth. It organizes the Girls State and Girls Nation civic training events.

American Veterans (AMVETS)—A federally chartered, volunteer-led organization for honorably discharged veterans. It was formed by World War II veterans in 1944 to advocate for veterans' interests. It has about 180,000 members organized into 40 state departments and more than 1,400 posts nationally. It is frequently involved with ROTC and JROTC programs to support young people considering military service.

Armed Forces—The military forces of a nation. In the United States, they consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard and their reserve components (i.e., Army Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, etc.), as well as National Guard units when under federal control. All are overseen by the U.S. Department of Defense in wartime; in peacetime the Coast Guard is assigned to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Disabled American Veterans (DAV)—A congressionally chartered nonprofit founded in 1920 to build better lives for disabled veterans and their families. It has about 1.2 million members, all veterans disabled in the line of duty during a time of war. It provides free assistance to veterans in obtaining benefits and services earned through their service to the country. It offers the National Voluntary Service Program through which veterans and concerned citizens can provide support for disabled veterans.

Discharge/Separation—A temporary or permanent release of a serviceman or woman’s obligation to serve. A discharged service member is typically not obligated to perform any additional military service, whereas a separated service member may be subject to recall to duty. Service members who are discharged for certain types of misconduct (i.e., receive a “dishonorable discharge”) can experience difficulties finding employment in the civilian job market.

Family Readiness Group—An organization within the U.S. Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard consisting of family members, volunteers, soldiers and civilian employees associated with a particular company or battalion. It provides information, activities, and support for military families to help them through deployments and the separation/transition process.

G.I. Bill—Formally the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the G.I. Bill was established by Congress to provide for college educations, home-buying loans, and other benefits for armed-services veterans returning from World War II. Since the original bill passed, the term has grown to include other benefits programs for veterans who served in subsequent wars as well as in peacetime.

National Guard—A reserve military force composed of militias in each of the 50 states and U.S. territories. It is organized into two subcomponents, the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. Guard units can be activated by state governors in response to natural disasters and other emergencies, as well as by the President in wartime or in response to crises of national significance, in which case the units come under federal control.

Reserve Duty—Less-than-full-time service performed by servicemen and women of the National Guard and the reserve components of the Armed Forces in support of full-time (active duty) military units. Reserve duty typically consists of training, maintaining skills and equipment, and keeping in touch with superiors in case of activation or recall to active duty. Some reservists are more likely than others to be activated or recalled to active duty, particularly Guardsmen and women who can be activated by their states’ governors and who have increasingly served extended tours of duties overseas since the events of September 11, 2001. Other reservists may be recalled to service if their particular skills or training are in short supply in the active duty military, or during periods of great need demanding full mobilization.

Veteran—According to the United States Military Code, a veteran is “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released there from under conditions other than dishonorable”.

Veterans affairs—The function and process of managing relationships between governments and the veterans that served them. In the U.S., veterans affairs are overseen by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and state departments of veterans affairs. The federal department is a Cabinet-level agency that maintains medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices. It administers benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors that include disability compensation, pensions, education (the G.I. Bill), health care, survivor benefits, vocational rehabilitation, and burials. State departments of veterans affairs may share in the task of administering these benefits, as well as other benefits (such as home loans) designed specifically for their states' veterans.

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)—A congressionally chartered organization for active-duty service members and veterans who have served in an overseas combat zone. With 1.6 million members, it is the largest organization of combat veterans in the U.S. It lobbies Congress for better veterans benefits, and its members and members of its auxiliaries donate money and millions of hours of volunteer time annually to civic causes.

Veterans Service Organizations—Nonprofit, mutual-benefit, social, or fraternal organizations founded to benefit or support veterans and/or their families (several of which are defined in this Glossary). Some of the older organizations, including the well-known American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, were officially chartered by the U.S. Congress (a mostly symbolic, “official” recognition). Some were founded on behalf of veterans who served in specific wars or time periods (e.g., Vietnam Veterans of America); others for veterans of a particular branch of service, unit, military rank, or distinction, or unit (e.g., Air Force Association); and still others to meet particular acute or ongoing needs or interests of veterans and their families (e.g., Disabled American Veterans, Gold Star Mothers).

Wounded Warrior Project—A nonprofit organization founded in 2002 to enlist public support for the needs of severely injured servicemen and women. One of its signature activities is delivering backpacks full of supplies and other items to the bedsides of injured soldiers.


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